Five major department stores are allowing their workers to don face masks while assisting customers as part of efforts to prevent the spread of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus.

Department store chains, in principle, don't allow such employees to wear masks, as, "It may strike customers as impolite," according to a Matsuya Co. official. However, the operators changed the policy to ensure the health of their employees, given that tourists from China account for a large proportion of their customers.

Nearly 10,000 cases of coronavirus infections and more than 200 deaths have been reported in China since the initial spread of the virus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. 

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., J. Front Retailing Co., Takashimaya Co., Sogo & Seibu Co. and Matsuya made arrangements as of Jan. 24 to allow staff who want to wear face masks to do so. 

Staff at Takashimaya working at duty-free counters that provide tax exemptions on goods for foreign tourists who buy items at its store were required to wear face masks from Jan. 27.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings also required its employees on its ground-level and first basement floors at its Tokyo metropolitan area stores, which see throngs of customers, to wear protective masks from the following day.